Last Updated on March 31, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1334
Ginika’s family is moving to America. The news instigates a discussion about who is lucky enough to have an American passport. Ifemelu feels embarrassed: her parents don’t even have passports. Obinze, in contrast, is well-versed in American culture and worships Manhattan as the capital of all things important.
Obinze’s mother wants to meet Ifemelu. A lecturer in literature, Obinze’s mother also does translation, and she translates Ifemelu’s name to “Made-in-Good-Times” or “Beautifully Made.”As Ifemelu watches Obinze and his mother interact, she feels uncomfortable because of their “fluid, bantering rapport. . . . It was free of restraint, free of the fear of consequences.” Ifemelu begins spending much of her time at Obinze’s house, loving the “rapture” she feels there.
Obinze’s mother realizes that Obinze and Ifemelu have been moving their relationship toward intercourse. Summoning Ifemelu to her, Obinze’s mother speaks to her about sex and suggests waiting “until you own yourself a little more.” Obinze’s mother also directs Ifemelu to share when they do become sexually active so that she can ensure that they are “being responsible.” Ifemelu is surprised to feel an “absence of shame” about this conversation.
Aunty Uju lives comfortably, supported by The General’s wealth. The first time Ifemelu saw where Aunty Uju lived in Dolphin Estate, she was amazed by how fancy it was and wanted to live there.
Ifemelu’s family struggles to pay rent, and the landlord cuts off their electricity. Ifemelu tells Aunty Uju about her family’s money problems. Aunty Uju says she will ask The General for the money, shocking Ifemelu, who believed Aunty Uju had her own money. Aunty Uju explains that she is attracted to The General for his money and power. She pays the rent for Ifemelu’s family.
The General spends weekdays with Aunty Uju and weekends at home in Abuja with his wife and family. Ifemelu finds their relationship “undignified and irresponsible.”
On the day of a planned coup, Aunty Uju panics about The General’s safety until she hears from him. He says that the coup had failed.
A Muslim holiday marks the first holiday that The General will be able to spend with Aunty Uju. She cooks and spends extensive time getting ready, but The General calls with news that he can’t come. The next morning, The General sends an “I’m sorry my love” cake.
Aunty Uju discovers that she is pregnant, news which greatly upsets Ifemelu’s mother. Determined to have the baby, Aunty Uju promises that “The General is a responsible man. He will take care of his child.”
The General wants the baby delivered abroad, and Aunty Uju decides she will go to America so that her child will have automatic citizenship. The General rents her a condo in Atlanta, and she delivers a baby boy named Dike. Aunty Uju returns with the child to Dolphin Estate, and both she and The General are happy.
Dike’s first birthday party is an elaborate and well-attended affair. Only a week after the celebration, The General dies in a plane crash rumored to have been orchestrated for political reasons. The day of his death, The General’s relatives arrive at Aunty Uju’s house and demand that she, a “prostitute” and “harlot,” leave their “brother’s property.” Aunty Uju finally realizes how dependent she has been on The General, for she has nothing. She and Dike flee to America.
Ifemelu and Obinze enroll at the university in Nsukka. Ifemelu feels disoriented in Nsukka, as if she doesn’t belong, though she is quite popular and boys are attracted to her. One of the boys, Odein, persuades her...
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to join a student demonstration demanding electricity and water at the school. Obinze’s mother tells them that “the military is the enemy,” for the professors are teaching unpaid. Eventually, the professors strike, too.
The strike lasts many weeks, and Ifemelu goes home to wait for it to end; she quickly becomes bored. Odein has a car and sometimes drives her around. Obinze asks Ifemelu what is going on between her and Odein, and she answers that she is merely “curious” about him.
When the strike ends, Ifemelu returns to Nsukka; her relationship with Obinze is strained after their conversation about Odein. One day, when Ifemelu is giving Obinze a massage, the massage escalates into sex. A week later, she awakens with nausea and worries she is pregnant. She calls Aunty Uju for advice and goes to the campus medical center for a pregnancy test. The test is negative, but the nausea continues; she has an inflamed appendix and undergoes surgery. Feeling guilty, she confesses to Obinze’s mother that she and Obinze had sex. Obinze’s mother tells both of them that they must always use protection.
Strikes at the universities become increasingly frequent, so Aunty Uju suggests that Ifemelu come to school in America. She takes the SATs, gets her visa, and receives a scholarship to study abroad. She and Obinze plan that he will join her in America when he graduates.
Back in the hair salon, Ifemelu knows the women rely on “this shared space of their Africanness,” but she does not acknowledge it. The uncomfortable heat in the salon reminds her of her first summer in America.
When she arrives in America, Ifemelu finds Aunty Uju impatient and prickly: “between them, an old intimacy had quite suddenly lapsed.” Aunty Uju is studying for a test for her medical license. Dike is a first grader “with a seamless American accent and a hyper-happiness about him.”
Ifemelu sleeps on the floor at Aunty Uju’s Brooklyn apartment. Ifemelu will babysit Dike for the summer and get a job when she goes to Philadelphia for school in the fall. Aunty Uju has arranged for Ifemelu to use someone else’s Social Security card in order for her to work.
Ifemelu notices that Aunty Uju becomes “a new persona, apologetic and self-abasing” around white people. She asks Ifemelu not to speak Igbo to Dike, then shares that she failed her last licensing exam.
Ifemelu spends her summer feeling as if she is “waiting [for] the real America.” She writes frequently to Obinze and watches Dike. Ifemelu befriends the neighbor, Jane, who is from Grenada. Jane warns Ifemelu, “If you are not careful in this country, your children become what you don’t know.”
Ifemelu believes Dike is undereducated for his age, so she begins tutoring him in math. That summer, she also likes watching the commercials on TV, which depict “lives full of bliss,” what she imagines is the “real America.” The evening news upsets her because it shows police brutality, poverty, and crime.
Aunty Uju anxiously awaits the results of her most recent licensing exam. She is dating a man, Bartholomew, who lives in Massachusetts. He treats Dike with indifference and overly compensates for his “deprived rural upbringing” by pretending to be thoroughly Americanized; Ifemelu thinks he is “unsuited for, and unworthy of, Aunty Uju.”
When Ifemelu first visits Manhattan, she finds it “dazzling[ly] imperfect.” She imagines she and Obinze walking its streets together.
Aunty Uju finally passes her medical licensing exam. As she imagines going for job interviews, she tells Ifemelu that she must take out her braids and relax her hair. Ifemelu believes Aunty Uju has “left behind something of herself, something essential. . . . Obinze said it was the exaggerated gratitude that came with immigrant insecurity.”
At the end of the summer, Ifemelu leaves Dike and Aunty Uju and boards a bus to Philadelphia to go to school. Aunty Uju gives her a Social Security card that belongs to Ngozi Okonkwo, and though Ngozi looks nothing like Ifemelu, Aunty Uju tells Ifemelu not to worry, because “all of us look alike to white people.”